Project x (faust) makes a deal with the devil
Created by the company. Directed by Steven Hill. A Leaky Heaven Circus production. At the Russian Hall on Tuesday, July 19. Continues until July 24
Thanks largely to video designer Parjad Sharifi and his collaborator David Mesiha, as well as set designers Anna Gukov and Mirona Motoc, project x (faust) looks utterly fantastic.
The audience sits on a carpet staring at a wide wall of mirrors. In those mirrors, we can see the set, which is in the deep space of the Russian Hall behind us: white furniture, more mirrors, and some barely visible walls of black netting. Sometimes the action takes place in front of us; sometimes it only appears to.
From these elements, the designers wring gorgeous effects. In the knockout punch, Sharifi throws a universe of expanding stars from a projector at the back of the hall. Hitting the netting, which catches the light, and bouncing off the mirrors, the stars surround the audience in a three-dimensional flow of heavenly bodies. It’s transcendent. Elsewhere, Sharifi uses shadows, slides of landscapes, and projections of coloured grids in one of the most memorable visual designs I’ve seen.
The design is just one aspect of another wildly innovative and generally successful show from Leaky Heaven Circus. The central subject here is the making of pacts with the devil. Mostly, the company-devised text riffs on Roman Polanski’s classic 1968 movie Rosemary’s Baby, in which Guy Woodhouse, a struggling young actor played by John Cassavetes, agrees to let Lucifer impregnate his wife, Rosemary (Mia Farrow), in return for success in his career.
Cassavetes was a famed Method actor and the company has a great time sending up what can be seen as the narcissism of this approach, in which actors draw heavily on their emotional experiences. And there are times when this take overlaps seamlessly with the masochistic self-indulgence of submission to Satan: James Long’s Guy writhes against the mirrored wall, imagining giving in to Mr. 666—essentially making love to himself. When Rosemary interrupts him, he hollers: “I’m working!”
Long makes the most of his patentable deadpan, and Emilia Symington Fedy is a dewy, still Rosemary. Under Steven Hill’s direction, the company’s restrained acting accentuates the absurdity of the content.
But, because this crew focuses its telling of this story on Guy, there’s not enough at stake. Yes, Guy makes a deal with the devil, but, unlike in the story of Faust, there’s little question about whether or not Guy is going to have to pay for his moral error; if you’ve seen the film, you know he gets away with it. The movie belongs to Rosemary; it’s about her fear that her husband has betrayed her and put their baby in danger. Project x (faust) is too busy riffing ironically on matters of style to create a meaningful relationship between Rosemary and Guy, so it loses narrative tension.
But this is a relatively minor complaint. I’d happily submit to project x again and again.